Interview with Vinny May Jr. of Kodaline

by DJ Ray

Vinny: Hey, how’s it going? I’m Vinny from Kodaline.

WMXM: As a band, Kodaline has been making music for a long time, but I feel like people who make music, there’s always that one moment in their life – whether it’s hearing a song or an album or going to a show – where it kinda clicks and you think “Wow, music is really cool.” What was that moment for you?

Vinny: We probably all have individual ones. Mine was my parents took me to a blues musician playing in a really old theatre in Dublin called the Olympia Theatre. It was the first gig I ever went to; I think I was about six years old or so, five or six years old. I just remember being absolutely blown away by hearing a live band play and I just kept on wanting to experience that more and more, so I kept begging my parents to take me to more gigs and then begged them for a drum kit so I could start playing and making music myself. That was probably the first experience that made me realize “Oh my God, that’s amazing. I want to try that, that’d be fun.” I started playing drums when I was nine and then met the rest of the guys in the band when we were like thirteen or fourteen and we’ve been making music together since then.

WMXM: Politics of Living is your third album, it came out about two months ago, and one thing with writing music is you never want to write the same thing over and over or else it gets kind of boring. Is there any kind of big pressure to change it up, like “We have to do something new?” Is that kind of pressure there when you’re writing an album, or does writing new things just come naturally?

Vinny: I think there’s no external pressure to be different, I think the pressure comes from within us. As musicians, I think you want to expand your horizons, you want to try new things, you want to work with different people and new people and expand your own horizons. I guess for us, the pressure didn’t come from a record label saying “This is what we need, we need you to write this record.” It kind of came from ourselves saying “We don’t want to make the same record again. We don’t want to make In a Perfect World, we don’t want to make Coming Up for Air.” Although some of our fans would love if we just kept making In a Perfect World part two, part three, part four, for us it’s like “That was an amazing snapshot of where we were back then, but this is where we are right now.” And a lot of our fans – as musicians and creating music – they’ve been on the exact same journey with us as well. Yeah, for us it was more so ourselves that were pushing each other to not make the same record again and to be bold and to try new things.

WMXM: Very cool. One thing – I think anybody, no matter what field they go into, they have a moment of paranoia where they think “Oh my gosh, what am I doing with my life?” Have you ever had that kind of moment where it’s almost this weird self-doubt and you don’t know where it came from? And if so, how did you work through that?

Vinny: I guess when we were all deciding to not have proper jobs or not go to college and stuff like that. I was in college doing an engineering degree and I had to go back to repeat some exams after my first year, and we had gotten offered a record contract and it was kind of like “Right, okay, so I shouldn’t go back to college?” It was weird, but at the time we had no idea; we were young and naïve and we were like “Yeah, just go for it.” I suppose being young and all that stuff happening, it kind of really helped us because we didn’t really have any other kind of self-doubt,

were just like “Alright, let’s go for it, we’re only young. If it doesn’t work out, it’s not the end of the world. We’re not in our fifties or sixties and it’s not gonna screw us over. We’re young, if it doesn’t work out after a year then that’s okay, we can still do other things.” Because it happened so young, because we had been together in a band since we were like thirteen and fourteen, we had each other. We were like “Yeah, let’s just give it a shot.”

WMXM: You’ve worked with a lot of cool people in the past – Johnny McDaid, Steve Mac, Jonny Coffer – is there anybody you haven’t worked with yet who you’d really love to work with in the future?

Vinny: Oh God, I don’t know… There’s a lot of other artists that we’d love to collaborate with, I suppose. Macklemore is a really great guy, we’ve met him a couple of times, really love what he does; Twenty One Pilots, they’re an amazing group, amazing guys; Imagine Dragons, they’re really cool. It’s kind of like other bands and other pairs, other people we look up to and aspire to be. I suppose working with somebody completely out of our genre would be cool as well, like with Post Malone or some hip-hop influence would be kind of cool to try something, just purely to see what would come out. So yeah, not limiting ourselves to bands ‘cause there’s too many people to mention.

(laugh)

WMXM: The music videos for your songs, a lot of them seem to tell a story or some kind of narrative. Is that something that you think about when you’re writing the music, or does that mostly come afterwards? And if so, how does it develop afterwards?

Vinny: It mainly comes afterwards. When we first started, we wanted our music videos to be a part of the whole story, but it was never something that we would think about during the writing of the song. It would always be just getting to work with young, ambitious directors and screenwriters that would want to try something out. So for us, making a music video was really important because it helped complement the song. And the way people consume music nowadays, it’s through YouTube and stuff like that, as well as Spotify and people actually going out and buying records. When we first started, YouTube was such a massive thing, so we didn’t to just be four lads standing in a white room pretending to play our instruments; we wanted the video to complement the song and to tell a story. We were very lucky that we’ve gotten to work with some amazing people that have helped do that, that have helped kind of interpret the songs. Music is all about interpretation; what is some person’s best song in the world is another person’s piece of garbage. So I guess for us, this music is all about what we feel, so we never really gave – any of the directors that we’ve worked with, it was always like “This is the song, you interpret what *you* kind of picture is the meaning behind the song” and they just kind of run with it. And most of the time we’re not in our music videos. When we first started out, it was a conscious decision, we were like “We don’t want to be in them because we want the music to speak for itself, not what we look like as people” ‘cause people can get too hung up on looks and stuff like that and we didn’t want that. If people like the music, they like the music, you know? That’s all that really matters. Yeah, and then just working with some people that were amazingly talented directors and screenwriters that came up with some really kick-ass ideas (laugh).

WMXM: Nice, very cool! So this whole tour – you’ve got a couple more weeks left – how has it been going so far and how has it compared to other tours that you’ve done?

Vinny: Yeah, this is one of the longest ones that we’ve done, we’ve kind of done a European and American tour back-to-back with like five days off in the middle. I don’t think we’ve done that before, normally we’ve done a European tour and then a couple of months later we go to the states and do some North American/Canadian shows. So this is – there’s like forty-one shows in total. We’re towards the end, I think we’ve got like eight or nine more shows left and then we break for Christmas. It’s been a lot of fun, it’s nice doing a tour and it’s nice building a set when

you’ve got three albums worth of material to choose. When we first came to America, we only had one record out so we could only play songs from that record. Now that we’ve got three albums out, it’s kind of nice that we can pick and choose songs from the first, second, third album. And there’s a good mixture in the set; we’ve changed a song or two here and there over the course of the couple of months we’ve been away. But all in all, yeah, it’s been really good, it’s been a lot of fun. Because the album was delayed by a year almost, we haven’t been playing shows for a while, so we haven’t been to America in about two and a half years. It feels like it’s been ages, so it’s really nice to get back over here. And hopefully the plan is to not leave it as long the next time, for sure.

WMXM: What’s the process of building the set list? What kind of input, and how do you make those decisions?

Vinny: It starts off in our rehearsal space that we have back home in Dublin, and we’ll just kind of play through a whole bunch of songs. A lot of songs, we’ve lived with them for such a long time so we kind of know what songs go well one after the other, so we try and make the set kind of flow and go on a journey. And we’ll change the set, the set will change loads in that rehearsal room. We try to work out everything before we get to a gig, and then the only time we’ll change it mid-tour is if we all feel like “Right, that bit of the set doesn’t work, everybody gets bored or there’s a lull or everybody starts to talk or something like that and people lose interest.” That’s the only time where we’ll kind of change things. Mostly when we’re in the rehearsal, we spend a couple of weeks just trying out different things and just grab some paper and we might write “This one! Nope, throw it out. This one!” It just kind of – it’s what we think flows really well and I guess if people like it, they like it. But so far, everybody seems to be really enjoying the show and they’ve been going down great.

WMXM: What’s the most unexpected thing that’s happened on this tour so far?

Vinny: (pause) Um… People singing along to songs that they only know by a couple of weeks. When we’re playing, there’s a good amount of songs in there that are new, like they’re on [The Politics of Living]. But I guess because we released an EP last year that had a track called “Brother” on it, that’s been going down really well over here. There’s another track called “I Wouldn’t Be,” a kind of a capella which has been going down really well. So yeah, I don’t know, I suppose the reactions to the new songs is what’s been the pleasant surprise. You’re always a bit apprehensive and a bit nervous about a new album coming out and it kind of being a different sound from what you’ve made before, so you’re always a bit apprehensive that people are gonna like it in the first place and that they’re gonna sing along. So the fact that the shows have been selling out and everybody’s been kind of really digging all the new stuff, that’s probably been the best thing about the tour, the kind of surprise that everyone’s like “Oh f***, right, okay, everybody actually does like this album.” I suppose – it’s just, for us it’s always nerve-wracking ‘cause when we write the album, when we live in it for so long, we send it out and it’s like “Please, please like it.”

(laughter)

Vinny: So the fact that everybody has been singing along has been amazing, it’s been a great feeling.

WMXM: That’s cool, yeah. What would you say is the coolest song to perform every night, what’s maybe a personal favorite?

Vinny: We’ve added in a track that’s on the album called “Hell Froze Over” and we’ve only played it like two or three times so far on this tour, and that’s been going down really fun. It’s kind of fun because it’s new; I like we haven’t played it in a while, since playing it in the rehearsal room, so it’s kind of fun to be playing that song and getting people’s reaction. There’s a section in the set, a kind of slow section, where Steve sings “The One” and we do “I Wouldn’t

Be” and we do a track called “Angel” and that’s a really nice moment because it’s the four of us all up on the front of the stage. And years ago we used to sing, like, a Sam Cooke song and we used to stand at the front of the stage and try to get everybody to be really quiet. So it’s kind of nice to hearken back to that, that we used to do in really small, tiny clubs to like a hundred people. We’d all stand at the front of the stage and sing that song, so it’s kind of nice to be able to do that in bigger rooms and still stand at the front of the stage and get everybody to be quiet and do this nice little quiet moment of the set. Yeah, that’s been really fun.

WMXM: Cool, I’ll look forward to that. (Update: I cried during that part of the set) You’ve been touring as a band for a while now, like you said you’ve played for small clubs and now you’re playing here at the House of Blues. Throughout the years, what’s something that you’ve always loved about touring.

Vinny: The people that you meet. And you get to see a side of a country and towns that you wouldn’t normally see. I suppose you don’t – like, we’re playing in a lot of places, especially in America, they’re not “tourist-y” spots that people back home would really know about, or they’d know the name of the place but they would’ve never gone there. So it’s kind of nice to play shows not just in LA and New York and Chicago and Boston and stuff like that, because Irish people know all about those kind of major cities. It’s kind of nice to go to Detroit or Minneapolis and go up to Montreal and Vancouver and Toronto and play all these places that not a huge amount of people would normally go, and you kind of get to see another side of the country. And plus, traveling around, it’s awesome! We’re in a tour bus for four or five weeks, so we see an amazing part of the landscape of the country that we’re in. And then traveling in Europe, it’s amazing because you’re almost in a different country every day or every second day. That’s always pretty incredible ‘cause you wake up and you’re like “Right, what language do they speak here? What currency do we need to use?”

(laugh)

Vinny: All that kind of stuff, so that’s kinda fun. I suppose, yeah, just getting to travel and meet new people and see different fan’s reactions and see what songs really work in different territories and different countries. We’ve had songs in, like, Poland or the Czech Republic that have been massive hit singles or that they’ve used on big TV ads, so that song is massive. Then you’d go to another place and that song would get the same reaction – like, a big round of applause and all that stuff, but different countries and different cities have different songs that they really connect with. So that’s kind of fun, seeing like “Right, why was everyone going absolutely mad for that song in that place and not in that place?” Yeah, that’s kind of fun.

WMXM: As a band or even just individually, do you have an pre or post-show rituals, warm-ups, cool-downs?

Vinny: Not really, we’ll kind of – Steve [Garrigan] will do vocal warm-ups for about half an hour before the show. That’s kind of it, we’ll all just get ourselves ready, we’ll start playing some music in the dressing room and then everybody just kind of takes turns throwing on different songs just to get everybody pumped up for the show. That’s about it, we’re not like – we have a hug before we go on stage and just tell everybody to have a good show and all that stuff, but that’s kind of it. We don’t really go into really mad routines or rituals or say prayers or any of that stuff. All of our crew, they’ve been with us – pretty much all of them – from the very start so we trust them implicitly with putting on the show. We have complete confidence in them, so we don’t need to really worry or pray that the show goes okay.

(laughter)

Vinny: They’re really professional and they make sure that the show runs the same every night and it runs really smoothly. I suppose if we didn’t have them, then we’d probably be praying (laugh) that everything went well. But those guys are awesome, so we know it’s gonna be okay.

WMXM: What kind of pump-up songs do you play; are there any ones that you play a lot?

Vinny: It changes, it can be anything. A couple of shows, we were playing a lot of Rage Against the Machine songs, then other ones we can play Irish traditional songs, then it can be like, Post Malone and Jay-Z. It can be anything, it’s all over the place. It’s just kind of whatever somebody was listening to during the day and they’re like “Oh, listen, I heard this song earlier on so I’m gonna play it.” That’s kind of about it, it’s just a mishmash of whatever the f***. (laugh)

WMXM: Do you prefer CDs, cassettes, digital music, or vinyl?

Vinny: Ehm… I have a massive CD collection from when I was a kid, I haven’t bought a CD in a while. I’ve been starting to buy vinyl over the past kind of three years or four years, so I’ve got a bit of a collection going. But I don’t know, digital is really…it’s so accessible, you know? I will still buy a digital copy of my favorite artist’s album on iTunes or if I’m near a record stop I’ll buy the CD or buy the record. But like for listening, just purely for the fact that you can carry all the music you ever wanted on a hard drive or you can listen it on Spotify, then that’s great and that’s just kind of the way things are going. I’d love to be able to carry a big trunk around with all of my records, but that’s kind of impractical.

(laughter)

Vinny: And same with CDs. So it’s just handy, having everything that you want to listen to on your phone. I don’t know, yeah, a bit of both. I haven’t bought a CD in a while, but I still have racks and racks of CDs in my parent’s house back home that I’m pretty sure they keep asking me to take home. (laugh)

WMXM: It can be musical or just for life, what’s the coolest piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Vinny: Ehm… (pause) Music industry ones, it’s kind of like “Be wary of what people promise you” because everybody will promise you the sun, moon, and the stars. And it’s kind of trying to see through the bulls*** of all that (laugh) and root out the people that are not in it for themselves, they’re not in it for what they can get out of you, but they’re in it for what they can help put into you and help you grow as well. But I don’t know, yeah… If you’re really passionate about something then just keep doing it, no matter what anybody else says, because you only have to impress yourself and if you impress yourself, then somebody else might find it impressive too. So don’t worry too much about what other people say, because you’re never gonna please anybody.

WMXM: True, yeah.

Vinny: Yeah.

WMXM: December’s coming up, it’s a big month for a lot of holidays; do you have any holiday plans or traditions that you’re excited about?

Vinny: I think we got home on the eleventh or twelfth of December, so we get home a couple of days before Christmas. Christmas is a massive deal in Ireland, it’s kind of just friends and family. Yeah, we don’t have anything on [Christmas]; we always take Christmas off, especially for our crew because we’ve got crew that have small kids and stuff like that. We always want to just have Christmas as family time, family and friends. So yeah, Christmas is exciting, I love Christmas (laugh). And yeah, I love the holiday season. It’s great because in Ireland, a huge amount of our friends emigrated to Australia or Dubai or somewhere in America so most of the time, everybody will come home for Christmas for a week or two, you get to kind of reconnect with people you haven’t seen since last Christmas. It’s always fun, you always end up in a pub on Christmas Eve singing Christmas songs ‘til whatever, twelve o’clock at night, ‘til they kick you out, and then Christmas Day is just with family. And then Stephen’s Day – or the day after, I don’t know what you call that over here, but it’s called Stephen’s Day in Ireland.

WMXM: I don’t know…

Vinny: I think it’s called Boxing Day in the UK.

WMXM: Oh, yeah.

Vinny: I don’t know what they call it, but the day after Christmas is a time when you’ll meet up with all your friends and…yeah, go drinking again.

(laughter)

Vinny: There’s a lot of drinking involved. It’s a lot of fun, so I think we’re all looking forward to getting home, having a bit of time off with our families and all that stuff.

WMXM: At the moment, do you have any favorite artists? They can be current musicians, classic rock…

Vinny: I’m a huge Foo Fighters fan, I got to see them live, last summer we were playing some festivals around Europe and we saw them a couple of times at the same festival. And I’m a big Incubus fan, I specifically made – not everybody *come to* the show that they were playing at the festival, but I basically delayed our bus call to leave to go to the next festival so I could watch Incubus. We’re big Drake fans, he’s incredible, saw him once or twice at a festival…big Post Malone fan…Anderson Paak is another guy who’s absolutely incredible, we’re all massive fans of him. Another guy, 6lack, he’s incredible, amazing. Yeah, it’s kind of weird and eclectic, like we’ll throw on – I’m a big hip-hop fan and rock fan, so we’ll just throw on different things. People throw on different music and it’s like “What’s that?” Some of the songs just connect, it doesn’t matter what genre it is. Yeah, there are a handful of names that are on heavy rotation.

WMXM: For the band coming up – you’re gonna be in Australia touring – do you have any future plans, whether they’re big, long-term plans or just small plans within the next month or two?

Vinny: I guess long-term plan’s, like…we want to be the biggest band in the world. I think if you ask a musician and they don’t say that, I think they’re lying. I think everybody that wants to be a musician wants to have some form of success or some form of notoriety and be remembered. We’ve always wanted to do this, since we were kids, and I think we’re just getting started. I know we’re on our third album, but we’re still really young, we’ve still got a lot to learn, we’ve still got a lot to achieve. And for us, it’s just about getting bigger and better and things moving forwards and moving upwards. That’s kind of what they *have* been doing, like with the European tour we just did, we played some of the biggest shows we’ve ever done. For us, it’s all about constant growth and always moving forward and never looking back. We tend not to look back on what we did last year or the year before, it’s always “Right, what are we doing next year? Where are we gonna be this time next year?” Yeah, we’ve got some big plans coming up for next year, hopefully another American tour that we’re planning at the moment. We’re heading off to Australia and Southeast Asia. We’re going to some countries that we’ve never been to before; we’re going to Korea which is gonna be a lot of fun. And we’re doing our own shows in Singapore and Malaysia and Indonesia. That’s just kind of – it’s crazy, but it’s amazing. And we really want to get to South America, that’s on our list that we definitely want to try and get to, ‘cause we know we have a lot of fans down there. Hopefully we can get down to, like, Chile and Argentina, just South America in general. That’s the plan.

WMXM: Cool! Alright, two quick questions. One: since this is for a radio station, if you had to create your own DJ name, like DJ *blank* what would it be?

Vinny: Oh my God…

(laughter)

Vinny: Oh, my God, I don’t know. ‘Cause in Ireland, the DJ name is just their name. They don’t have any kind of names, where American DJs have cool names. I don’t know, I’d probably end picking some really stupid name…I have no idea, I don’t know. That’s a tough question.

WMXM: It’s not something that’s always easy to come up with.

Vinny: No, it’s not. I can’t for the life of me think of a cool DJ name apart from…yeah, just Vinny, I don’t know. That’s it, yeah.

(laughter)

WMXM: Vinny’s already a cool name, so yeah, just go with that.

Vinny: Yeah.

WMXM: And then the last question: If there’s one main takeaway or one big message that you’d want the audience to leave your show with, what would you want it to be? Like, they walk out of the venue with one message in their minds, what would it be?

Vinny: That they had a good time. We’re here to try to entertain people for the hour and a half, and we want to try to retain everybody’s attention for an hour and a half (laugh). So I guess for them just to be like, they had a good time and they’d want to come back again. There’s a lot of engagement with the audience in the show, we try to get people clapping, get people singing along. That’s a massive part of the show, so people leaving and being like “Man, my voice is gone and I had a great time,” if everybody feels like that, then we’re like “Yeah, that’s awesome, we did our job.” So yeah, those two things: they’ve lost their voice and they enjoyed themselves.

WMXM: Sweet! Alright, well that’s about it!

Vinny: Thank you so much, really nice to meet you!

WMXM: You too, thank you so much for your time!

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